A German Christmas: Jewish Stars and almost no Jews - Aviva - Berlin Online Magazin und Informationsportal für Frauen aviva-berlin.de Juedisches Leben Mias column


Chanukka 5782

AVIVA-BERLIN.de 4/16/5782 - Beitrag vom 31.10.2019

A German Christmas: Jewish Stars and almost no Jews
Mia Szarvas

As the holiday season is approaching in Germany, and I am beginning to see yellow, six-sided stars adorning artisan´s stalls and on Christmas decorations, I am reminded of a piece I wrote two years ago, during my first Christmas season in Germany. The shock of seeing a yellow six-pointed star being celebrated as a German Christmas symbol is now dampened by the passage of time, but the absurdity of it remains.

What does a six-pointed star mean?

That´s a question of time, and one of place.

It´s a symbol I wore around my neck as a small child, suspended in place above my small heart by a thin golden chain. It´s a symbol I removed as an older child, when I rejected being Jewish because I felt it "wasn´t cool". For me, this symbol was so tightly linked to Judaism, I thought that only when I wore it would anyone know I was Jewish.

Throughout my life, this symbol returned to me, haunting me, mocking me, inviting me to its power. I experimented with it on some earrings when in high school I chose to identify as Jewish once again, because it gave me an "edge" in my peer group of mostly waspy teenagers. I invited my classmates to "Latkes Parties" for Hanukkah and we took turns spinning a dreidel. I felt my Jewishness was "hip", I ignored the comments thrown at me in hallways, or the rocks thrown at my head, "stupid Jew" they said, "you darn Jew" they wrote in my yearbook, next to a scribble of six-pointed star.

The six-pointed star stands defiantly above me in a picture from my first solo-trip to Israel to visit my aging Grandma. My smile in the picture is full of joy, the massive blue star hangs above my like an announcement.

This symbol has always caught my eye, wherever I have been. Whenever I see it hanging from a necklace, I know its owner is Jewish. When I went to Normandy pay respects to my fallen great uncle, I saw it carved into some of the graves, where others wore crosses. I knew those graves were Jewish. A six-pointed star, the Star of David, or Magen David as my Israeli father calls it. A living symbol of my cultural legacy. I never questioned the Jewishness of this symbol, I took it as fact.

It turns out, however, that while this symbol is today widely seen as a Jewish symbol, this association wasn´t so widespread until the 17th century. Jews adopted the hexagram as a symbol largely to have a parallel to the Christian cross. The hexagram can also be found in Muslim tradition, Hinduism, and even in esoteric Christian tradition. So, can I say this star is Jewish? I can´t say it has always been, or will always be. I can´t say it is to everyone, in every place. But I can say, it is to me. And it should be, to Germans too.

It was while I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley that I first came to understand the weaponization of symbols. I sat in my History of the Holocaust class and stared ahead. There on the projector at the front of the room sat a six-pointed star. My old friend, the hexagram I had donned and removed at various periods of my life, experimenting with identity, playing with belonging and rebelling. This Magen David was special. It was yellow. Jude, "Jew" in German, was scrawled awkwardly on its center, caged between the hexagram´s lines like a prisoner. This Magen David was a weapon, a plague, a mark of death.

During the Holocaust, Jews were forced to wear yellow fabric patches in the shape of six-pointed stars on their clothing. These stars indicated that the Germans wearing them were Jewish, a public declaration of their inferiority, of their destiny: to be enslaved and murdered by their Christian compatriots. It is the symbol my Polish grandma would have been forced to sew on her woolen coat, had she not escaped with her parents and sister, just days before it was too late. It is the symbol the rest of her family was wearing as they were marched, carted, worked, gassed to their deaths.

This history is well known, widespread, understood. If ever there were a place where a six-pointed star were Jewish, it should be here, in Germany. Yet, it is forgotten. In a country lauded for its excellence in the collective memory of its sins, yellow hexagrams hang from Christmas trees, stare up from cookie platters, burn in the form of small candles, smile from children´s toys. As I walk through the Christmas markets in Munich and Bremen, where I live, I see Magen Davids cut out of yellow fabric hanging on the side of every vendor´s stall, I see advent candles perched atop their six-pointed star holders, innocently but sinisterly declaring the victory of Christians over Jews, sitting in a position of power above the star, laughing at the forgotten memory of something so clearly and painfully Jewish.

What a beautiful star, what tragic amnesia.

During the winter in Germany this star is everywhere, and it is often yellow, and it is almost never Jewish.
"It´s just a star" my friend declares, as I stare at the hundreds of Magen Davids that decorate the most famous bakery in Munich. "The Jewish one has lines in it," he insists, educating me about my own culture, "it´s not Jewish". So what should I make of a store selling only yellow stars with lines in them, are they "not Jewish" as well? Can this symbol still be Jewish, when almost no Jews remain in this place to remember?

I walk through an indoor artisan´s market, six-pointed stars hanging from nooses between holly in the rafters above. They hang as the singular decoration of the Christmas tree that stands alone in the far corner, almost ashamed, as if it remembers what a yellow hexagram has meant here, even when its decorators have forgotten. I walk by all the advent decorations that trample the Magen David below their blood red candles, past small Christmas tree figurines with a single, yellow, six-pointed star perched atop them, and I wonder: can time really erase what this symbol means in this place?

To my Christian German friends, I ask you to consider: what would it be like for you? What if Jewish Germans had systematically murdered their Christian friends, your family had fled, and you´d grown up halfway around the world? What if you returned to Germany, seventy years later, and saw crosses hanging in every corner of the city for Hanukkah? What would you say if I turned to you and said, "the cross is not Christian"? Would you feel alone, if no one ever remembered, that it once was?

Germany took everything, including their lives, from my family in the 1940s. Now it feels like Germany has decided to take this symbolic evidence of its crimes, too.

To my German friends, family, and fellow residents: please stop using the Jewish Magen David to celebrate your Christian holiday. Here in Germany, this symbol should be exclusively Jewish: a minuscule reparation for having weaponized it, a way to pay respects to this symbol that was tarnished by hate. Please, stop selling children´s toys in the shape yellow, six-pointed stars, with a smiley face painted on them. Their creepy smiles beckon the ghosts of the murdered children who were forced to wear that very same star, whose smiles were extinguished by the sinister plans of great grandparents. Germany, retire your six sided "Christmas cookies", return to the five-pointed ones that were most commonly used in tradition. Return to five sides, and leave the hexagram for me. This symbol belongs to survivors, to their grandchildren, like me, who want to affirm, we are still here. It is not yours to take from us. In doing so, you only seek to further erase us.

Read more about the Magen David:

Pessach und der David-Stern

How Did the Six-Pointed Star Become Associated With Judaism?

Star of David

The Star of David: More Than Just a Symbol of the Jewish People or Nazi Persecution

About: Mia Szarvas was born in Vermont to an Israeli father and Italian-American mother, raised in California, and currently lives in Bremen, Germany. Her grandmother, Marta, escaped from Poland in August of 1939 with her parents and sister, with whom she set up a new life in Palestine, while the family they left behind perished in the Holocaust. Mia has a degree in Political Ecology from the University of California, Berkeley, and works in tech to create empowerment in unexpected places. She is curious about multiculturalism, languages, feminism, and how our intertwined histories inform the present.

Follow Mia´s art project "Humans Who Inspire" on Instagram @humanswhoinspire. Mia draws portraits of humans who inspire her as a meditation on the multitude of incredible humans working to make the world a better place. She also accepts requests and submissions.

Read more by Mia Szarvas at AVIVA-Berlin:

"A Resolution for the New Year." Reflections on Being Jewish by Mia Szarvas

"Uncovering Jewish Venice." Reflections on Being Jewish by Mia Szarvas

"Let´s Get Uncomfortable …." Reflections on Being Jewish in Germany by Mia Szarvas

"I Answered All Your Question About Jews, so You Don´t Have To (And so I Don´t Have To)" - reflections by Mia Szarvas

"I Don´t Want Your Shame" - reflections by Mia Szarvas

Yom HaShoah - reflections by Mia Szarvas

Photo of Mia Szarvas by Elena Sloman

Jüdisches Leben > Mias column

Beitrag vom 31.10.2019


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